Buried at the bottom of the official list of “2016 sports controversies that set the nation’s watercooler talk abuzz” has been the hacking of the Houston Astros’ player personnel files by employees of their former NL Central rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s not hard to see why the general public doesn’t care too much about this: no star players were involved, it deals with technical computer stuff and frankly, baseball just isn’t a sexy thing to talk about when steroids aren’t involved. But make no mistake, this was a major story that will go down as a moment of particular infamy for baseball historians. Just ask Chris Correa, the former scouting director for the Cardinals.
Correa’s name can now be uttered in the same breath as Shoeless Joe Jackson’s or Pete Rose’s, as he has been given a permanent ban on involvement with MLB by commissioner Rob Manfred. It’s quite an exclusive club that Correa now belongs to, reserved only for those deemed to have committed the most egregious sins against the integrity of the game and filled mostly with anonymous players doubling as gamblers and criminals from the dead-ball era. You won’t even find any vilified steroids users on there (thank God). So what did this poor guy do exactly to deserve all this ire?
Well, Correa didn’t just take a quick peek at an unattended computer of an Astros’ employee, he combed through Houston’s player evaluation database 48 times through five employee emails over the span of two and a half years, gained access to Astros analyst Sig Mejdal’s personal email, and spied on the team’s trade notes “at least 14” times.
The guy went full blackhat and the investigation concluded that it wasn’t even out of some misplaced sense of righteousness. Though Correa claimed that he initially breached Houston’s system to see if Mejdal, a former Cardinals employee, had himself stolen any information, Correa only ever seemed to look for information that pertained to his own role with the club. Sticking it to Mejdal, a noted rival when the two worked together, and earning a promotion were a couple of nice byproducts. Oh and in case you still don’t have a good idea of how serious this scandal is, you should know that Correa is currently serving a 46-month sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty last January.
Now with the hammer being brought down so harshly on Correa, you’d think that the organization he was benefiting would be facing similar charges. But you would be wrong. Take a look at the punishments levied against the Cardinals and they look like a slap on the wrist. A $2 million fine to the Astros? Chump change for an MLB organization as rich as the Cardinals, they are valued at $1.6 billion! The loss of their first two draft picks? A little more of a stinger, except that the Cardinals’ highest picks were numbers 56 and 75, the result of their signing Dexter Fowler this offseason. Given how volatile MLB prospects are, especially those chosen after the first round, this stands little chance to significantly impact St. Louis moving forward.
Now I want to be fair, the reason the team is facing such comparatively light punishment compared to its employee is because the investigation concluded that Correa was acting alone. There is no truth to the rumors that Manfred went so easy on the Cards because he wants to maintain their pristine image as the model MLB franchise, or because Joe Buck slipped him a twenty under the table. Still, it feels here as if St. Louis is escaping having to take responsibility for Correa’s actions.
Regardless of whether or not he truly acted alone (I personally find it unlikely that nobody else in the organization as privy to the information, but we can’t punish based on suspicion), his club benefited from information obtained illegally, and may continue to do so for years to come. And you can make an argument that the Cardinals were complicit in the crime for failing to notice inside information filtering into their analysis for the better part of three years. At the very least, it seems to me like they should have been faced with a heftier fine and the loss of draft picks for several more years, not just this one. But instead, it seems destined that everyone will forget this and go right back to lauding the Cardinals’ management and fans as the “classiest” in the game. I can’t wait.